Headnotes are an integral and crucial part of recipe writing. They’re often attached at the last minute without enough thought. The following should help to determine the direction you choose for your headnote. Obviously readers won’t want to see all these things covered in every headnote so be judicious in your choice of words.
Inspirational: The headnote is as important as the photography. It should inspire the reader to want to eat, and therefore cook, your dish. This can be done by mouth watering prose, or a small ‘story’ of taste that entices the reader.
“As the gratin cooks, the thinly sliced apple melts into the parsnip purée giving a subtle fruitiness, lovely against the mealiness of the oatmeal crust.”
Personality: The headnote is your chance to communicate with the reader and stamp your personality on your work. Some sort of short relevant personal tale can endear you to the reader.
“This is a terrific fresh, zingy tasting starter if you can get fresh crab meat. I love the fresh crabs we often gather in traps not far from our beach house, but it’s terrifically hard work and always seems to take ages to shell the crabs and extract enough meat. Luckily you can buy Waikanae crab meat from a good
Confidence: Headnotes should convey a sense of confidence. This is where you have a chance to explain how the recipe can be broken down into its various components, cooked ahead or include other advice.
“This soup may be made a day in advance up to the point of adding the mussels and the cream.”
“This is an elegant dish and because the lamb is poached in a light broth there is never any suspicion of dry meat. The timings given will produce lamb that is cooked to ‘the pink side of well done’. If you like your meat cooked a little more, it is a simple matter: just leave it a while longer. Indeed you can fish out the rack, carve off a chop and if it’s not to your liking, put the whole thing back in to cook some more.”
Attribution: Readers need to know where your ideas spring from. And we all turn to other writers, chefs, menus and books for inspiration and ideas. It is important that we give credit where it is due for our recipes, and acknowledge our sources, even if they’re not copied word for word (let’s hope not!).
“This recipe was given to me by the chefs of the Divan Hotel when they arrived in London en masse for a week’s celebration of Turkish cooking.”
Substitutions: If one of the ingredients may be hard to get or very expensive you should mention in the headnote what substitutions are possible.
“In my opinion veal kidneys make a nicer meal than lamb kidneys but they are not as readily available. However, if you can get them, just cut the walnut- sized pieces off the main ‘lump’ and use as for lamb kidneys in this recipe.”
Explanations: You can use the headnote to introduce a new ingredient or technique.
“If you’ve never tackled celeriac before this is an excellent way to start enjoying a terrific vegetable. Look out for a large roughly spherical object, 10–12cm across and slightly off white. At one end there will be a tangle of knarled stubby fingers. The flavour is similar to celery, and it has a sweetish edge to it that benefits from a dash of lemon to sharpen
it up. A whole celeriac root will keep well but use it within a week or two of buying it.”
Techniques: Use the headnote to amplify a technique in the recipe.
“Making sausages is a fairly daunting task and one made a good deal easier if you do happen to have
one of those food mixers that has a sausage-making attachment. If you do not have this gadget, do not despair: simply use a piping bag. It will work just as well, despite being a touch more messy. The sausages will keep for up to 2 days in the fridge and should be rested for at least six hours before cooking.”
With thanks to Sophie Grigson, Charles Campion, Raymond Blanc, Peter Gordon and The Confident Cook.